The Midwest Region champion Kentucky Wildcats are set to take on the West-winning Wisconsin Badgers in an epic Final Four matchup that will bring us one step closer to closing out the 2014 NCAA tournament.
It promises to be one of the most exciting games of March Madness, and perhaps the only way to get closer to the edge of your seat while watching it is to place a wager on the outcome.
Whether you are risking big bucks at the sportsbook or just making a friendly bet among friends, it is always better to be on the winning side.
Keep reading for the complete 2014 Final Four schedule plus a closer look at the latest odds, picks for each game and an in-depth look at the Wisconsin vs. Kentucky showdown.
|4/5/14||Florida (-7) vs. UConn||6:09 p.m.||TBS||Florida|
|4/5/14||Wisconsin vs. Kentucky (-2.5)||8:49 p.m.||TBS||Wisconsin|
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Preview: Wisconsin vs. Kentucky (-2.5)
There should be no doubts about the ability of either school, as both navigated through the 68-team field to make it to the final weekend of the Big Dance.
Each is capable of not only making the championship game but also winning it all, so it is a shame that one will have to exit at the conclusion of this Final Four battle.
The Wildcats have grown up before the nation’s eyes, winning four straight games and proving every doubter wrong. This team had its troubles during the 2013-14 campaign, but it finally rounded into form and is living up to its billing as the No. 1 squad in the preseason.
It's not often that a starting lineup comprised entirely of freshmen is able to show this type of togetherness and maturity when the stakes are so high. ESPN Stats & Info notes that one would have to go all the way back to 1992 and the “Fab 5” to find an Elite Eight winner that started five freshmen:
Kentucky is the first team to start 5 freshmen in an Elite 8 win since Michigan's "Fab 5" in 1992.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 30, 2014
The Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, deserve much of the credit for this run. The pair shook off criticism to guide Kentucky out of arguably the toughest region in the tourney.
The duo combined for 39 points to hand the top-seeded Wichita State Shockers their only loss of the season in a third-round battle. Then, they did enough to handle Louisville’s unrelenting press in the Sweet 16—a performance that allowed the Wildcats to pull away late against the defending champs.
These backcourt stars were heroes once again in the Elite Eight, with Aaron nailing a gutsy dagger of a three-pointer in the closing seconds to go up on Michigan, which you can see here courtesy of NBA Legion:
Aaron Harrison. Cold blooded. https://t.co/HCFSPbZlUe— NBA Legion (@MySportsLegion) March 30, 2014
Big man Dakari Johnson had high praise for his teammate after the game, per USA Today’s Dan Wolken:
Dakari Johnson on the size of Aaron Harrison's, um, onions: "He can't even walk right now."— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 30, 2014
Despite the telling transformation of this blue-blooded Kentucky program during a magical March Madness run, the team will be immensely fortunate to get past a locked-in Wisconsin squad that has made a metamorphosis of its own.
The Badgers have been downright dominant all year, moving from a defensive-minded team to a three-point-bombing blitzkrieg with shooters at every spot on the floor.
Center Frank Kaminsky, whose 28 points were the catalyst behind UW’s victory against top-seeded Arizona in the Elite Eight, had this to say about the perception of his school, per George Schroeder of USA Today: "This is known as a defensive program that slows ball down on offense. We wanted to put a little of our brand on it. ... I think it's showing with this run we've had in the tournament."
While Kaminsky has been great during the Big Dance, head coach Bo Ryan assured reporters that it doesn’t matter who is scoring the ball—as long as it is going in the hoop on a consistent basis.
Evan Flood of 247Sports has a quote from the coach on his team’s unselfish play:
Bo Ryan: "It's amazing what you can accomplish, when you don't care who gets the credit." #Badgers— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) March 30, 2014
The Badgers can spread the ball around and make opponents pay from anywhere on the floor, and that will be the main reason they narrowly edge Kentucky this coming weekend.
Which team will win?
It should be a close matchup, but defense and three-point shooting win NCAA tournament games. While UK’s defense grades out a shade higher than UW’s (No. 45 in the nation compared to No. 49, per KenPom), Wisconsin possesses a more potent offense (No. 4 compared to Kentucky’s No. 9, per KenPom) and can lock down when necessary.
That much was evident when Arizona was not even able to get off a final shot in overtime, allowing the Badgers to make their first Final Four foray since 2000. Expect them to continue this run into the championship game with a tight victory against the ‘Cats.
Prediction: Wisconsin 67 – Kentucky 65